The first three days, I think, as I've completely lost track of time, have gone fairly well. After the first day of acclimating to the altitude, the second, third and fourth days have basically been of no medical consequence, other than head pain. And it certainly has been interesting. First, some errata.

I talked about the five prayer flags that the Tibetans fly from each corner of their mud brick houses. They also put these flags up on mountains, by lakes, wherever they feel like it. The flags are put up once a year, on the Tibetan new year, and they are supposed to bring forth "luck". Greetings in Tibet sound like "de lay", and it means both hello and good luck. They are completely entranced with this concept of luck; luck brings them good fortune, and wards off bad occurrences in their farming, house building, wife finding, food growing, etc. So much for it working on the Chinese.

The five color flags are blue for sky, white for clouds, green for water (the rivers here are green), yellow for earth and red for fire. This whole luck thing was again obvious upon my visit to the Potala Palace today, whereby the entire place was swamped with Tibetan pilgrims from all over Tibet, pushing me and everybody else out of the way, so they could put yak butter in the yak butter lamps, money on the statues, and bow down low enough to put their heads against the same; all with the purpose of getting "good luck". The people look like a cross between Chinese and Indian, I guess because they kind of are, and their education is limited to learning Tibetan, (and now also Chinese). There really isn't any other schooling other than the languages. They are basically farmers and herders of sheep and cattle, and once a year, usually in the winter, after they have finished growing their crops, take the entire family and head for the Potala Palace to pray for good luck. It was basically a mad house, full of the disgusting aroma of burning yak fat. But, it was an incredible place, one that was definitely worth seeing. The only reason why it wasn't destroyed during the "Liberation of Tibet", in 1959, when the Chinese invaded and "liberated" the Tibetans, was because Zhou En Lai told his generals that the Potala Palace was off limits. Shame his generals didn't take the same advice with the other monasteries and the such. The Cultural Revolution also had some devastating effects on much of the ancient buildings and temples in Tibet.

After arriving at the airport a few days ago, we drove to TseDeng, which was the birthplace of the Tibetan culture. The second day was spent visiting some ancient tombs, which, in the pictures under the file "Tibetan Village", I think, look like these giant mounds of earth. No king has yet been discovered in any of these small flat mountains, but legend has it that they are the burial tombs of the great kings, about 19 or so in this one valley. Off in the distance in one of the photos, you can see a typical Tibetan village, and above that, a red "bombed out" structure, which used to be a monastery. That building was over a thousand years old, and it didn't survive the madness of the Cultural Revolution. Now, on this tour, typically the guide brings you to one of these burial mounds, shows you the temple on the top of it, and then brings you back to the hotel (which was fairly nice), to rest for the afternoon trip. That just wasn't good enough for me; I wanted to walk in the village. My guide, a Tibetan, Yan An, I think, told me that that was not really permitted. I convinced her otherwise.

We walked through the village streets, and met many native Tibetans. By native, I mean, not terribly influenced by their Chinese masters. Well, more on that later.... The villagers were building another home, taking earthen bricks that had been drying out in the sun for god knows how long, and mortaring them together with mud. The entire village helps out; the women usually cart the stones, earth, and wooden beams, the men do the technical work and put the house together. Women from as young as ten or so, to 70 or 80, carried supplies. All were terribly fascinated with me, as tourists rarely had gone through the village. The pictures tell the story. The houses are mainly constructed of earth and mud, with wooden beams for the roofs, and yak shit is thrown, by hand, as to make an acceptable pattern, onto the sides of the house. Yak shit is very sticky, as I later found out, having stepped accidentally in a fresh pile of it. The wooden beams are largely decorated with many colors, and the exteriors of the houses are whitewashed. There really didn't seem to be a pattern to the layout of the village. There was a pattern, however, to the layout of the Chinese military base, centered alongside the village.

How can you tell it is a Chinese military base? Well, the buildings are typically Chinese in nature, with rectangular buildings, tiled, red stars, Chinese guards with guns, all surrounded by a large wall, actually, a rarity in this culture (the Tibetans use walls to fence off their lands sometimes to keep the sheep and other animals from straying). The Chinese use their walls to keep the Tibetans from straying, inside. You can tell it is a Chinese wall because there is lots of broken glass embedded in the concrete on top of it. A military base, in this tiny village, way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere. Why would there be such a need, I asked my Tibetan guide, who previously, was very careful how she answered such questions.

She replied that the Chinese were protecting their borders from the Nepalese. One quick look at a map, and at the size of Nepal, and I laughed. And when I met a Nepalese guide, this little, constantly smiling terribly friendly guy, I thought the whole thing absurd. Then I asked, why were there around five military bases scattered around the small town of TseDeng? They were everywhere. All full of very unhappy appearing Chinese soldiers, all probably dreading this miserable outpost. My guide was convinced that they were all there to protect them from attack from Nepal, and maybe India. I suggested that maybe the garrisons were there to help "maintain peace and order", after their "liberation" of Tibet back in 1959. She smiled, as if she was accepting my reasoning far more than hers. Interesting, when you think that Tibet is over 90% Tibetan. The Chinese may be moving in and opening businesses and the like, but the Tibetans still outnumber them. Unfortunately, you can see a lot of Chinese influence in the "cities".

Well, trudging through the yak shit in the village was not enough for me, I wanted to trudge it through some poor Tibetan's house. So I convinced her to find a villager, and get us inside for a peek. And so it was. I was actually pretty impressed with the size and comfort of the building, it was laid out on three levels, with the bottom level for storage, and the upper two levels for living. The ceilings were covered with nicely ornamented cloth, I thought, for insulation purposes. They had electricity, a product of the Chinese liberation (they did not have electricity prior to 1959), and they had rooms for sleeping, for praying, and for cooking. The page Tibet house has some of the pictures from the inside.

That afternoon, we went to the first palace. It was the site of the first king, built in the second century, BC. Pretty damn old, it was the first structure in Tibet. Prior to this time, all Tibetans lived in tents made out of yak hide. The story goes, that a Tibetan was walking through the mountains, found this guy sitting down meditating, asked him where he was from, and when he pointed to the sky, the guy thought that he was sent by the heavens, so he picked him up, carried him back to the TseDeng region, and all the Tibetans built this guy this building. After that, they started to build huts for themselves. The first palace rests up on a hill, which was a bitch to climb at 12000 feet, and overlooks many fields for growing; these were the first organized farmlands in Tibet. Inside the structure is a temple, though previously, it was a "palace". As the oldest building in Tibet, it was fortunately spared the ravages of the Cultural revolution. In the pictures, you can see one of the rooms where one (or all?) of the six monks live.

Oh, and the pile of rocks, are called prayer rocks. One picks up a stone, throws it onto the pile, and says a quick prayer. It is supposed to bring one good luck. The picture that shows the palace way up on the mountain, with the little kid running on the road towards me, was the usual "money" request. The Tibetans, though their lives have "improved" since Chinese occupation, are all pretty poor.

The next day, the third I think, was for visiting the Samye monastery, the oldest monastery in Tibet. It was on the way back from TseDeng to Lhasa. I think it was built around the 2nd century. Getting there required taking one of these leaky wooden boats across a big river, going god knows how far upstream, and then jumping into the back of this Chinese made truck (with Honda stickers on it, a Tibetan joke I take it), and driving downstream the same distance. Don't ask me why they do it that way, all I remember, is that it was damn cold that morning, and we all basically froze on this very slow moving boat. The monastery itself was fascinating. As picture taking inside costs money, if you can take pictures at all, I just got a few. After a while, one monastery starts to look like another. The interesting thing about this monastery is that all Tibetans must make a pilgrimage to this one, at least once in their lives. They feel that when they die, they all go to hell, and if they had put enough yak butter in the yak butter lamps in the monasteries during their lives, that they would have enough light for their souls to make it to paradise. But first their souls had to go to the Samye monastery. The souls then hang in a soul bag inside the monastery awaiting their return to paradise, and eventual reincarnation. So that the souls know where to go, the Tibetans must make a pilgrimage to the Samye monastery at least once. I asked my guide if the souls had to take the leaky boat across the freezing cold river. She said no. I wonder if they have to get into those damn bumpy trucks?

The next day, today, (the fourth day here?) was spent visiting the Potala palace. It is absolutely an incredible place, absolutely swamped by Tibetans from all over Tibet. They visit yearly during the winter when they don't have to take care of their crops. They are one hell of an aggressive people, with no regard for anyone else or each other, and especially me, as they push and shove through each of the various temple rooms, all with the primary purpose of giving money to the Buddha statues, and bowing to touch their heads to the same. They also carry around chunks of yak butter, with which they put little slabs into each of these large bowls, that have wicks that burn the butter. The stench is pretty bad after awhile, and I seemed to notice that the stairs and floor were more slippery where there was an abundance of these lamps. I couldn't get any pictures from the inside, as photos weren't allowed. But I did get a CD rom that does these computerized guided tours, complete with pictures and history. The shots from outside were all I could get, and I really didn't find those interesting.

Lhasa is basically split into two parts, the Chinese newer part, and the Tibetan older part. One of the pictures shows lots of new buildings and construction, this is the Chinese part. The views from the roof of the palace show the Tibetan side. The square that I took the pictures from, in front of the Potala Palace, is a small mimic of Tiannenmen square. It so tastefully has a Chinese disco situated on it, and, at the far end, a MIG jet. People say that the Tibetans have a much better life now that the Chinese are here, but I still see nothing but Tibetans coming up to me to beg for money (no doubt to run right into the palace and put the dollars on the Buddha's). But one thing is obvious to me; the Chinese are here to stay, and they have really altered at least the city life of the Tibetans, and even, to a large degree, depending upon how you look at it, the small village life. Much like American culture has invaded China, (and the Shaolin Temple), China has invaded and changed Tibetan culture. Irreparably.

This yak butter shit is used everywhere. They make a tea out of it, whereby the tea is almost entirely yak butter, with some tea leaves and a bit of salt. Drinking it is like drinking hot lard. It offers a fairly apparent explanation for the fact that atherosclerotic heart and vessel disease runs rampant throughout the Tibetans. (An "elderly" Tibetan woman lay dying in one of the rooms of the Potala Palace as I walked by. No, I opted not to play doctor...) God knows how old these people are, as the brutal sunlight ages and darkens their skin terribly. A forty year old man could look over than 60. Cataracts are rampant, as it is a rare Tibetan that wears sunglasses. Thyroid goiters were the other common ailment that I noticed. I don't think that iodine is in their diet. Basal cell skin cancers, and melanomas, were the other common diseases that I saw. I saw no evidence for surgical treatment of any of these disorders on any Tibetan that I saw. And today, I saw hundreds, if not more.

The Potala Palace is high up on a hill (the Tibetans believe that their government, regardless of who it is, king or dalai lama, should live higher than them. The Chinese live in the valleys...) An extraordinarily huge amount of stairs are in front, which lead up to the entrance. The Tibetans enter this way. By some huge act of genius, someone decided that it would be bad for appearances (the Chinese are always concerned about "appearances" and "saving face"), if there were a lot of dead foreigners on the stairs, so the foreigners are driven up the back way, and are let off on top, to go through the palace backwards, and therefore, eventually walk down the stairs. Going against the flow of hundreds of Tibetans through these little rooms and up these very steep stairs (made for very little feet, and covered in the remnants of slippery yak butter smoke) make for an extremely interesting visit. It really is a fantastic place to visit, as is Tibet in general.

I met a "group" of people who came here to see what I have seen so far, but leave for the base camp of Mt Everest on Wednesday, when I leave to start heading home. They are from England and Canada. I kind of hooked up with these two older men, who have a younger girl following on their coattails. We met as we froze on that leaky wooden boat (yes, I actually had a sneaker over one leaky spot. We all had a good laugh as multiple other leaks developed, all with people hysterically laughing as they froze and put their feet over the leaks) They are touring as a group, I am alone, so I really don't spend much time with them. The girl is English, as is both the older guys, but the guys are very outgoing, and extremely funny. Mix English humor with sardonic NY sarcasm, and, well, the boat ride was one many a Tibetan will never forget. The girl, whose name is Karin, pretty much kept to herself. I sensed that she either had problems, or was in man hating mode. And to think, I wasn't responsible....

Dinner last night was fascinating, as we ate in the hotel's "Hard Yak Cafe", replete with fifties and sixties pop music, and pictures of Marilyn Monroe and the such. We travel twenty thousand miles to Tibet, only to be reminded of America. Brian, is an investment banker, trader, and the such, in his sixties, here to fulfill a life's dream: he has traveled all over the world, but he has always yearned to see Mt Everest. His wife decided not to come, as she got a little disgusted with his mode of travel, when the last time they were in Thailand, the bamboo raft they were on fell apart, and they almost drowned. "Why don't we take the air conditioned bus like all the other old people?". He is very outgoing, and has many interesting friends. Eight years ago, he was neighbors with Elton John; he knows him well. He is best friends with the Duke of Edinborough, whoever that is, knows Prince Charles, and was business partners with that Brian something guy, the manager of the Beatles, in the pre-Beatles days. He had some great stories.

His best buddy who came with him, and I can't remember his name, is in his late fifties, is Czech living in England, and specializes in the import export business with the previous iron curtain countries. He lost his entire family, save his mother and father, to the Holocaust. His mother survived four years in multiple camps. The conversations, especially with both of these guys being Jewish, was just incredible.

But the high point was Karin. She is half east German, half English (her mother lived in Leipzig during WWII; interesting, a "German" girl hooked up with these two Jewish guys) She had many stories to tell about her mother and grandmother during the war. I kind of blew her off on the boat when I tried to make conversation with her; she was pretty distant. And when I had found out that she was a make up artist, all I could think about were these girls at Dillard's selling make up behind counters. I initially didn't bother trying to include her in our conversations on the boat. She was in man hating mode anyway.

But during dinner she opened up, and she became the most fascinating of them all. You see, she is the make up artist for the Spice Girls. Imagine, traveling twenty thousand miles and meeting the make up artist for the Spice Girls. I found some sort of perverse humor in that. She has also done much make up stuff for a lot of the European super models, Schiffer, Iman, that black one, the real skinny one Kate Moss. She never did Lady Diana, but she did paint some of the outer limits of the royal family. She was here to get away from her boyfriend, who wanted to get married, as he was disgusted with her being away all the time traveling with the Spice Girls. I tried to get some dirt out of her, but she was pretty careful. She's used to having her phone tapped and people trying to get information (the British tabloids work similarly to the secret service over there; amazing what they do and get away with).

I'm talking to these two very intelligent and upper class British guys about all sorts of things, in Tibet, and the Spice Girls come forth. God did I get the giggles out of that for some strange reason. I haven't bothered with her much, as she is still in man hating mode (and you know how well I get along with women when they're in that mode...),so I spent more time talking to the Brits. And the most fascinating story was the one about Princess Diana. This guy Brian had lots of ins with the in crowd in Britain, and like many older Jewish well to do men, he was very well educated, and very learned. He had lots to say about the Diana scam. All three of them did. Apparently, one of the reasons why there was such a huge outpouring of love for her after her death, was not that they missed her. It was more a guilt trip. We're not told everything in the US.

Princess Diana's death: The real scoop from Tibet, 1988

You couldn't write a better story. Apparently, Dodi Al Fayed's dad, (we'll call him daddy Fayed), the owner of Harrod's department store and other things in England, is an extremely well to do and paranoid individual, encasing himself in a fortress in the middle east, surrounded by bodyguards. He doesn't have a real strong love for the British, and especially the British royalty. The British hate him likewise, not only because of who he is, but also because he is a Muslim. We all know that Diana kind of turned the royals on their heads in the press, because of her beauty, her appeal, and her extraordinary knowledge of how to manipulate the press (Karin says she got her hair and face done daily. She is friendly, on a professional level, with Diana's people). The royals were not at all in favor of her, especially after her divorce with Charles. They were appalled that she, the mother of the future king of England, was dating (and screwing) multiple lovers after the divorce. But the one thing that the royals could not tolerate was her dating Dodi Al Fayed. When it became apparent that she was pregnant by him, and that they were engaged, the wheels started turning. The press did all they could to suppress the pregnancy and engagement, by making them "rumors". The press was and still is in bed with the royalty to some degree, as Brian told me that his friend the Duke of Edinborough has had many affairs, a fact which was suppressed "respectfully" by the newspapers over there.

The English would never tolerate the mother of the king of England being married to a Muslim. Especially since most Muslim men, when they marry a non-Muslim woman, demand that the woman become Muslim. The mother of the future king of England being a Muslim; the father in law being daddy Al Fayed. It was far too much, and it had gone far too far. Daddy Al Fayed was getting himself positioned just where he wanted to be.

About three months ago, a man was convicted of murdering his wife, by having her car altered. He had some sort of apparatus put onto the steering mechanism, whereby he could control her car by remote control (remember the last Bond movie??) He took control of her car when she left for work and crashed her into a building or something. They caught him when the authorities had the car analyzed, and the mechanism was readily discovered. That incident reinforced what many British people believe happened with Princess Di's car. Immediately after the accident, Mercedes Benz, who couldn't believe that a small Fiat, if it existed, could cause the biggest Benz made (and it was fortified and strengthened) to lose control, when it was only doing sixty miles an hour, in a tunnel which was largely straight. It didn't make sense to Mercedes Benz, but they were denied access to the car, until last week. It also didn't make sense that the only person that had a seat belt on was the security guard. It is against British security rules for the security guard to wear a seat belt, as it is thought that a seat belt would only slow down the guard's necessary egress from the car in case of emergency. Many British have felt, and still feel, that British Secret Service MI5, was responsible for the whole thing. Apparently, there was no other way out to protect Britain's most highly respected (in their minds) institution. And apparently, more facts are coming out to reinforce these feelings in Britain. Fascinating. I guess time will tell.

These guys asked me if I wanted to continue on with them to the Everest base camp, which is a three day jeep journey from here. They were going to spend a day there, and then travel another day to Katmandu, from where they would then start going home. Land Cruisers are used for these trips. For in impoverished country like Tibet, a large majority of the vehicles are Land Cruisers. New, old, really old, they are incredibly useful for all of the back country trips ( a good deal of the roads are dirt, and are not in the best shape). It is a real testament to the vehicle.

I considered going to Everest with them. I'm doing fine at 12,000 feet, at which Lhasa is, but any sort of exertion triggers migraine. I fortunately have not had any significant episodes of hemiparesis, and at this time, seeing that I've been here for three days, don't expect any kind of complications. But I've been told that the base camp is 15,500 feet (so the Brits say) and the tour guide says it's 6000 meters, but you have to go over a mountain that is 7000 meters. I guess the real answer is, I don't know how high it is, but they do bring a fair number of tourists on these trips. Well, a small number, but I have no idea what kind of complications these guides see. They really don't seem all that bright to me. I decided to stick with the original plans. I'm hesitant about going any higher than I already have.

Tomorrow will therefore be the last day in Tibet. Some more monasteries and local history, and then I'm on my way back. So far it's been a good trip.